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Open-air learning

By Staff | Sep 19, 2014

Junior high school students from Rugby and Wolford wade through Balta Recreational Dam during North Dakota Eco Ed Day, organized by Pierce County Soil Conservation District. Pictured (from left to right in front) are Devan Michels and Jaden Hamilton; (back) Kelsie Ebach, Mariah Hjelden, Emma Mahle, Alyson Mundahl and Zach Morrow (Wolford).

BALTA – Education had a fresher energy Tuesday at Balta Recreational Dam. Junior high students from Rugby and Wolford waded through water, counted rings from tree trunks and developed their own filtration systems during North Dakota Eco Ed Day.

Warm weather and clear skies made for a perfect setting as students listened to wildlife management professionals, college professors and agriculture experts at five stations around the dam.

“We’re hoping they learn about the environment, how to help protect it and know what their environment does for them,” said Missy Lowman, Pierce County Soil Conservation District clerk. “Maybe we’ll get a few of them that want to go into this type of management.”

A favorite station allowed students to put on waders and walk into the dam to collect water samples and small animals. Larry Brooks, life science assistant professor at Dakota College at Bottineau, explained what pH levels are conducive for certain fish and other animals. Students took nets into the water to scoop up small wildlife.

“We learned about little creatures, like fresh-water shrimp,” Rugby seventh-grader Mariah Hjelden said.

Pierce County NDSU Extension Agent Yolanda Schmidt discussed management of range land at another station.

“Imagine your favorite food,” Schmidt told students. “If you remove all the good stuff, it allows the bad stuff all the space to grow. We have to make sure the livestock eat the good stuff in moderation.”

Jeff Smette and Jon Bach of Towner State Nursery shared proper tree care. Smette explained the importance of not running into bark with lawnmowers or weed whackers.

“That bark is protecting trees from certain insects and disease,” Smette said. The students passed around samples of various tree leaves and learned how to count rings on tree trunks.

Other stations focused on wetland animals and water filtration examples. Angie Bartholomay, chemistry assistant professort at DCB, had students put a coffee filter into cut two-liter bottles before adding soil. Students learned what happens when water infiltrates soil to better understand the natural process.

“It’s a lot better to have vegetation on land or the water or rain will erode all the nutrients and soil away,” Rugby seventh-grader Trenton Sanford said. “It takes 500 years for the soil to gain an inch back.

“It’s been a really fun day and I’ve really like it. It was fun when we got to go to the bugs and insects area and go mucking through the water.”

Rugby science teacher Melissa Goddard shared her students’ enthusiasm for the daylong experience.

“I think it’s very important,” Goddard said. “It adds to what we can’t always do in the classroom. I wish we could do more of these things.”

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